The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it is implementing its “first-ever comprehensive nationwide Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Action Plan,” which the agency says would address contaminants that are impacting water sources at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the city of Dayton.
EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp and EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Anna Wildeman detailed the plan during a news conference on Thursday, pointing out the impact that the chemicals have had on part of the water supplies at Wright-Patt and in Dayton.
The plan includes:
• The EPA is moving forward with the maximum contaminant level (MCL) process outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act for PFOA and PFOS—two of the most well-known and prevalent PFAS chemicals. The agency will propose a regulatory determination, which is the next step in the Safe Drinking Water Act process for establishing an MCL. No specific dates were given regulating MCL standards.
• The agency will issue interim groundwater cleanup recommendations for sites contaminated with PFOA and PFOS. Currently, there are no set guidelines for cleaning up PFAS contamination.
• The EPA will propose to include PFAS in nationwide drinking water monitoring under the next Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Program. The agency will also consider PFAS chemicals for listing in the Toxics Release Inventory to help the agency identify where these chemicals are being released, the agency said on Thursday.
• The agency will develop new analytical methods so that more PFAS chemicals can be detected in drinking water, in soil, and in groundwater.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — known regularly as PFAS — are a group of man-made chemicals that include different types of substances including PFOA, PFOS, GenX and others. PFAS can be found in some firefighting foams, household products like water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products like Teflon, waxes, polishes, and even some food packaging, according to the EPA.
PFAS chemical compounds turned up in March at Dayton’s Ottawa Water Treatment Plant, the first time the compounds — believed to be safe when below 70 ppt for lifetime exposure — were detected in water after the treatment process. The chemicals have also been found in part of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s water supply.
Both the city and the base used firefighting foam that they determined was likely the cause of the contamination.
“For the first time in Agency history, we utilized all of our program offices to construct an all-encompassing plan to help states and local communities address PFAS and protect our nation’s drinking water,” said EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, in a statement. “We are moving forward with several important actions, including the maximum contaminant level process, that will help affected communities better monitor, detect, and address PFAS.”
Critics say the plan is too vague to address any immediate issues. “This so-called ‘action plan’ on PFAS is really a non-action plan, designed to delay effective regulation of these dangerous chemicals in our drinking water,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, in a statement on Twitter.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, said the plan did not answer key questions about drinking water safety. Earlier this month, Brown joined a bipartisan letter calling on EPA to set federal drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS.
“All Americans have the right to safe drinking water and the EPA needs to set a clear, strict standard for these contaminants,” Brown said. “Americans should never have to fear for their health, or their child’s health, when they turn on the faucet. We need the EPA to prove to us that it’s on the peoples’ side and not the side of the chemical companies that have exposed millions to these toxic substances.”
Congressman Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said in a statement that he strongly supported the comprehensive action plan laid out by the EPA — encouraging the process of listing PFOA and PFOS, both found in our community’s water, as hazardous substances.
“Additionally, I am pleased to see the EPA has begun its process of listing PFOA and PFOS, both found in our community’s water, as hazardous substances,” he said in a statement. “By designating these as hazardous, it will allow for our community to have increased access to federal tools to clean up the groundwater sites where the chemicals have been found. This action plan is a strong step forward for our community to continue to ensure our water is safe.”
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